Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Emotional Intelligence in The Classroom

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about my new favorite book, No Drama Discipline , the concepts presented in the book and how I apply it to to my work with children. You can read that here. Today, I am excited to share my experiences I’ve had talking with the children at the preschool house about the inner workings of their brains.

I’ll start by introducing a couple of  our characters. There’s “Alerting Allie” who lets us know if our body is in danger. Make way for “Flexible Fred” who helps us compromise with our friends. After introducing these  characters and their feelings, the kids set up the brain-house: putting the downstairs below and the upstairs on top. Alerting Allie lives downstairs to keep us safe, but Problem Solving Pete lives upstairs to make sure we are making the right choices.  I lay the basis of the storyline with the kids to help them grasp the idea of how our brain works, explaining that the downstairs folks need to send messages up the ladder to the upstairs characters so the brain is able to do what it is supposed to do when everyone is working together. 

Our brain  supports us with the ability to manage, vocalize, and identify  feelings that help us make good choices, get along with our friends and self soothe to help us get out of sticky situations. Adding conflict in the story is a great way for the children to creatively brainstorm ideas about resolution in which they feel pride and ownership, which will in turn foster more motivation about actively applying these new tools. I add in dialogue like: “Oh no! Alerting Allie spots some danger! Frightened Felix panicked and now we don't know where we are going. Boss Bootsy sounded the alarm to prepare our body for danger. He shouts ‘the downstairs are the leaders now! Our upstairs friends can work together again when we are safe!. ” 

This is Bootsy (our downstairs brain) flipping the lid on the upstairs brain. This means the stairs are no longer connected and our messages from downstairs won't make it to the upstairs, causing all kinds of commotion in our brain house. Sometimes flipping the lid is what keeps our bodies safest. Bootsy signals other parts of our body to either turn on or off; for example our downstairs brain can help warm up our muscles so we are able to run really  fast, or help keep our body super still to keep quiet. When storytelling with the children I tend to keep this part very light, using examples that won’t actually happen (so we can imagine these ideas in a playful way!). “What would Alerting Allie do if you met a dinosaur on the playground?”

We all sometimes flip our lids (even teachers!), and I’ll  remind the children of this, again in a light tone. “One time I was looking for my pen and I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE! I kept looking in the same place because my downstairs brain took over and flipped my lid so my brain wasn’t working properly”. Sometimes our downstairs brain gets it wrong, and  we flip our lids when we actually still need the upstairs gang. Although we all flip our lids, children tend to flip their lids a lot more than we do as adults. I remind them how much practice we have using Problem Solving Pete and Calming Carl and that’s why you don’t see grownups laying on the supermarket floor screaming for chocolate (hopefully),  even though grownups love chocolate just as much as children do. In addition to this reminder I use examples from my day with them when I worked with Problem Solving Pete or Calming Carl. "Earlier when I went outside I was so frustrated because I forgot my coffee. I wanted to scream, but I talked to Pete and he reminded me I could still go get it. Calming Carl then helped me breathe slower and my heart stopped pounding so fast."

Friday, February 8, 2019

Anti-Racism and Our Classroom

To recognize the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday this year, we have been talking about citizenship, service, and anti-racism.  On Tuesday morning we discussed why our school had been closed this Monday.  We all agreed that for schools and businesses to be closed for someone's birthday might mean that that person was important and special.  We wondered at morning group time, what made Dr. King so special?  What did he stand for and what can we learn from him?

As we discussed Dr. King's legacy and some reasons why the teachers admired him, we were sure to speak about racism truthfully and age-appropriately.  I asked, "Did you guys know that people are sometimes treated differently because of their skin color?" and even more specifically, "Have you heard of people with light skin treating people with dark skin unfairly?"  This information doesn't come as a shock to preschoolers, who are avid observers, constantly taking in both spoken and unspoken information about the way the world works and how people are treated.

One thing that is amazing about preschoolers is that they are fierce advocates for justice.  Fairness and unfairness are huge concepts for children of this age and because of this they are eager to know how they can help make their classroom, their community, and the world more fair.  At two to five years old, this group of children understands where their skin color comes from - their ancestors, the sun, and melanin - and that while our skin color can be one of many unique and interesting attributes we have, it isn't something that should affect how people are treated.  That's unfair, plain and simple, and easy for preschoolers to understand when explained in these terms.

The injustice of racism brought up big feelings for the group.  Adults who wish to be advocates for anti-racism are familiar with these feelings: anger, sadness, fear.  Those feelings are hard, and we don't want to overwhelm children, but our goal also isn't to create comfort or complacency around these issues, because injustice and racism exists. Overwhelm can also lead to a feeling of helplessness, which is also not what we want.  For me, what helps to integrate these feelings of anger and sadness is action.

As teachers we want to offer actions to children that are attainable right now.  Some of our ideas: If you hear someone say something mean or treating someone poorly based on another person's skin color, tell them that's not okay.  If you notice someone who is different from you, try and get to know them and ask them questions.  If it's an adult, you could ask one of your trusted adults to help you.  You can also ask yourself and your trusted adults questions when you're wondering about someone's differences.  Ask your parents about doing a service project as a family.  Participate in our school service projects.

We also want to offer hope and momentum for change.  One of the best way to do this is to learn about the history of activism and change-makers, from the Civil Rights Movement in which Dr. King was a leader to more recent movements such as Black Lives Matter.  Preschoolers see their own desire for justice and action reflected in the examples of activists from history and right now.

As a white teacher, part of my work is addressing my own internal biases, not becoming complacent, and inviting other teachers and parents to do this work with me.  Some resources that have been extremely helpful to me in my work are ReThinking Schools , So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo, and What If All The Kid Are White? by Louise Dermin-Sparks.  I believe talking about race and racism is essential to helping the next generation to recognize and dismantle bias, and I look forward to continuing discussion with both families and children in our schools.